Yes, I Know Bob Dole Was Anti-Gay. I Liked Him Anyway.
He was a good person who believed in public service--and we could use a few more Republicans like that
As we are leaning into the holiday season, is there anyone in your life who needs the gift of my opinions? If you know someone who wants to hang with us as we enter the year 2022, and the fate of our political system hangs in the balance, please
Perhaps you have already guessed: it’s not just that I like Bob Dole. It’s that I admired him as much as I could admire someone whose staunch conservatism made him an opponent of my own civil rights. So, although 98 is not a terrible age at which to exit this vale, I was sad when he died.
But was Dole sad? I doubt it. For one thing, he was a stoic who had lived an amazing life. For another, he had practiced dying, and he knew what he was doing. Seventy-six years earlier, Dole bled out for nine hours waiting to be evacuated from an Italian battlefield in 1945, and again when lung cancer finally took him down. The fact that he didn’t die when enemy fire ripped apart the top right quadrant of his body must have always felt like a miracle to him. Perhaps it didn’t seem like a miracle—only a burden—in the almost four years of therapy and surgeries which permitted him to regain mobility and learn to live the rest of his life without the use of his right arm and hand.
Yet, unlike the 291,557 other Americans who died in combat between 1941 and 1945, God—or fate, or chance—let Bob Dole live. He must have wondered why that was so as he struggled through depression, despair, nerve pain, and every terrible punishment, a catastrophic wound like the one he endured leaves in its wake. But Dole found purpose, first in law, then in politics. Once he got back on his feet, he moved through the world so skillfully that few people thought of him as a disabled person. He could not dress himself in the morning, and yet he was always beautifully turned out, in suits with built-in padding on the right shoulder that disguised the fact that he didn’t have much of a shoulder left. And that pen you saw perpetually clutched in his right hand? That was to signal that hand-shaking could only happen with the non-traditional left hand, but it was subtle, designed so that those who greeted him would not feel awkward.
Being disabled may have been the only non-traditional thing about Bob Dole. That is, other than the fact that he often referred to himself in the third person, as “Bob Dole,” as if the man who got out of that hospital bed in 1948 was simply someone else than the one that had been born Robert Joseph Dole.
Which, in a sense, was true. The war took one man away and gave another one back. Dole repaid that gift by channeling his ambition into politics, becoming one of the great leaders of the 20th-century Republican Party.
In today’s terms, as anyone on left Twitter would tell you, there are lots of reasons for this queer writer not to get all mushy about Bob Dole. Although he was a Senate co-sponsor of a 1989 federal hate crimes bill that included sexuality as a protected category, in the 1990s, he sided with the culture warriors, resisting equal citizenship for LGBT people in military service or civic life. It went so far that he returned $1,000 donated to his presidential campaign by the Log Cabin Republicans. And in the spring of 1996, as Brody Levesque of the Washington Blade writes,
in an effort to shore up support of his campaign from the Christian conservative movement within the Republican party, Dole signed on as the first co-sponsor of the Senate version of the Defense of Marriage Act. The legislation barred federal benefits for same-sex couples while allowing states the right to refuse recognition of such marriages that are recognized in other states.
Who signed that bill into law? Democratic President William Jefferson Clinton.
So I am just saying: being anti-gay was a mainstream position in both parties throughout and beyond Dole’s career in the Senate. Moreover, it remained a mainstream position until 2010 when Barack Obama repealed the Clinton administration’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that allowed only closeted queers to serve in the military and instructed the Department of Justice to stop defending DOMA. And what national party leader announced support for gay marriage before Joe Biden in 2012?
I can’t think of one. Can you?
Because of this, I am not one of those people who are wistful for that time before “the transformation of American conservatism,” as Paul Krugman recently put it, “into a collection of malignant whiners.” Nor do I long for a “calmer political past” when senators fought bitterly over my civil rights in the afternoon and then sat down to dinner. There was a very long time in American politics when gay people couldn’t wring an ounce of sympathy from a politician in either party.
But I didn’t give up politics, either. You don’t have to be living entirely in the present to remember that there was a time when it was possible to admire, or even like, a person and disagree with their ideology and political choices. Perhaps I liked Bob Dole because I spent a substantial portion of my childhood in a small town in southern Idaho, and I have a more generous space in my consciousness for a certain kind of conservative.
Or perhaps it was because Dole reminded me of other men in my family: my dad, whose belief in the power of hard work was never-ending; or my grandfather, who worked endless shifts at the hospital during a polio epidemic in the early 1950s, only to wake up one day to find that he, too, would live the rest of his life with a neuro-muscular disease that slowly took his body away from him. And while my father was on a steep learning curve before his death in 1997, the year after Dole left the Senate, neither of these men had a terrific gay rights record either. But they were men who served, and they were men who worked their way up from somewhat meager beginnings to a life where, as physicians, they gave back every day.
When the GOP finally nominated Robert Joseph Dole for President, an office he had coveted since Gerald Ford chose him as a running mate in 1976, it was too late. Dole was 74, the oldest presidential candidate ever at that point, and he was doomed. Moreover, the race pitted Dole, one of the least charismatic politicians in the United States, against Bill Clinton, the most charismatic American politician since John F. Kennedy.
Dole didn’t have a prayer. Yet he ran that race as though he did—as if the privilege of running for president was more than most Americans could ever ask for.
And perhaps he was right.
At The Washington Post, columnist Helaine Olen argues the obvious: the answer to the damage caused by remote learning is not more remote learning. “None of this should shock anyone,” Olen points out. “It was known before the pandemic that remote schooling produced dismal results. The author of one study on the topic, published in 2015, claimed that remote classes were so ineffective that when it came to math, it was as though children `did not go to school for the entire year.’”(December 7, 2021)
CNN reporters Zachary Cohen, Jamie Gangel, Katelyn Polantz, and Ryan Nobles broke a vital story yesterday that deserves more air than it would get on a day that Mark Meadows decided not to testify after all. The January 6 committee has issued over 100 subpoenas of electronic records related to the attack. They are not seeking content, only the time and duration of calls. What does this mean? First, the Patriot Act will make the subpoena almost impossible to challenge in court. Second, when Trumpistos testify, they can be asked, with specificity, what they were talking about.
(December 7, 2021)
In The Boston Review, abortion provider Christine Henneberg writes about why viability and choice are not central to her discussions with patients, but what she calls “the woman’s contextualized autonomy” is. (November 29, 2021)
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